from the booklet
The global water crisis and the commodification
of the world's water supply
A Special Report issued by the International
Forum on Globalization (IFG)
by Maude Barlow
National Chairperson, Council of Canadians
Chair, International Forum on Globalization (IFG) Committee
on the Globalization of Water
Not long ago, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of
the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This Declaration marked a turning point in the long international
quest to assert the supremacy of human and citizen rights over
political or economic tyranny of any kind. Together with the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Declaration stands
as a twentieth century Magna Carta. Besides granting full human
rights to every person on earth regardless of race, religion,
sex, and many other criteria, the Declaration includes the rights
of citizenship, services and social protections that every citizen
has a right to demand of his or her government.
These rights include social security, health, and the well-being
of the family, including the right to work, decent housing and
medical care. The covenants bind governments to accept a moral
and legal obligation to protect and promote the human and democratic
rights outlined in the Declaration and contain the measures of
implementation required to do so. The individual rights and responsibilities
of citizens as established by the Declaration, together with the
collective rights and responsibilities of nation-states as established
in the covenants, represent the foundation stones of democracy
in the modern world.
Yet a half-century later, the lack of access to clean water
means that more than one billion people are being denied a right
guaranteed them in the United Nations Declaration. Over those
fifty years, the rights of private capital have grown exponentially,
while the rights of the world's poor have fallen off the political
map. It is no coincidence that the deterioration and depletion
of the world's water systems has taken place concurrent with the
rise in the power of transnational corporations and a global financial
system in which communities, indigenous peoples and farmers have
The role of the state has been profoundly altered in recent
decades. As writer and activist Tony Clarke explains, "Stateless
corporations are effectively transforming nationstates to suit
their interests in global transnational investment and competitiveness."
It appears that governments and government institutions, even
the United Nations, have become, at worst, captive to these corporate
forces and, at best, unable to stand up to them. Citizens have
been largely left to fend for themselves.
In recent years, an international movement of workers, social
advocates, human rights groups and environmental organizations
has come together to put human and ecological issues back on the
political agenda. They are forming powerful alliances with one
another to affect government policy in their own countries and
around the world and to dismantle or reform global institutions
working against them. Public educators are meeting with one another
to stem the assault on public education. Environmentalists are
working together to slow the progress of international trade agreements.
International anti-poverty activists meet regularly to forge a
new international "Social Contract" for adoption by
Similar groups are coming together to forge links and take
direct action to protect water. The Blue Planet Project is an
international initiative begun by The Council of Canadians to
protect the world's freshwater from the growing threats of trade
and privatization. During the March 2000 World Water Forum in
The Hague, activists from Canada and more than a dozen other countries
organized to oppose the Forum's privatization agenda and kick-start
an international network to protect water as a common resource
and a basic human right. A grassroots civil society movement,
The Blue Planet Project, intends to become an active force in
every country and community in the world.
Information on this project can be found at www.canadians.org/blueplanet.
The time has come to take a clear and principled stand to
stop the systematic devastation of the world's water systems.
In the long term, nation-states have to be re-tooled in order
to establish the regulations and protections necessary to save
their water systems. International law must be developed that
recognizes and enforces the social obligations of global capital
in the interests of the global "water commons." Most
important, the citizens of planet earth must move, and quickly,
if we are to save it.